Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ten-year Atkins Anniversary!!!

Yesterday my husband Paul and I celebrated our 10-year Atkins Anniversary.  It's amazing to think we've been low carbing ten years now, but it's true.  It's been a fun journey with a lot of great discoveries, challenges, experimentation and lots and lots of learning.

Way, way, way back in early 2003, Paul and I had pretty much resigned ourselves to being fat.  I'd dieted before, of course; in fact at one time my doctor had put me on a low-fat diet, the most disastrous attempt ever.  I stuck to it, all right (how, I have no idea), but I felt horrible, weak and sick and headachy and dizzy, all the time.  I could eat and eat and stuff myself and never feel satisfied.  I had to basically give up everything I loved to eat, particularly cheese, and the tradeoff apparently was feeling hungry (when I didn't feel nauseous) and horrible 24/7.  Heck, I felt better fat and half dead.  So I'd just basically given up.

A couple who were close friends of ours, Joel and Ginger, had gone on Atkins.  One of the things we shared with Joel and Ginger was a deep and abiding love of food <G> and cooking.  The four of us always joked that no matter where we were or what we were doing, we'd always be the best-fed people in any given demographic -- if we went camping, we'd be the best-fed campers in the campground, for example.  We loved to fix meals for each other, so I figured I'd better do some research and figure out what I could cook for my friends without blowing their way of eating.

Well, I did my research, and as I did, my wonder grew.  Joel and Ginger could eat all the things I loved, including my beloved cheese.  I cooked a couple of low-carb-friendly meals for them and marveled at how easy it was.  Slowly, the thought "snuck up on me" -- I could eat this way.  I could enjoy eating this way.  This could WORK.

So Paul and I talked it over, looked at menus and recipes and products and talked with Joel and Ginger -- I'm an obsessive planner -- and we decided that, yes, we were going to do it.  Our targeted start date was March 15, 2003.

I got a couple cookbooks and stocked up on supplies for low carb cooking.  I was ready to go.  So I figured, hey, it's a couple days early, but let's do a couple of meals as sort of a dress rehearsal.  So on March 13, 2003, I cooked a low carb meal.

Then another.

Then another.

Then I cleaned all the old carby stuff out of my kitchen, because I was already low carbing, two days earlier than planned.

In some ways, 2003 was the golden age of low carbing.  A number of significant studies had come out showing the benefits of low carbing.  The low carb "boom" was on.  Low carb products were everywhere.  There were even a couple of specifically low carb shops here in Indianapolis, one very nearby.  Restaurants rushed to offer low carb options.  Low carb options were everywhere.

And so were pitfalls.  Sugar free candy was suddenly available in every possible form -- even my long-time love, Reese's peanut butter easter eggs.  Low carb breads, bars, baked goods . . . everything under the sun.  Paul and I relied on these products a lot more than we should.  We were still eating a lot of packaged, premade goods of dubious content, although we also cooked "from scratch" a lot more than we had been.

For good or ill, the low carb boom ended.  Suddenly many of the products we'd used and loved were no longer available.  We had to create our own healthy, low carb substitutes for beloved carby foods, but let me tell you, that kind of challenge to a creative cook is like waving the proverbial red flag in front of the bull.  And damn it, we did it -- full throttle, full steam ahead.

And have been doing it ever since.

What tickles me to death is that after ten years, we still have "D'oh!" moments.  It took me a couple years to discover the online low carb community.  I didn't discover flaxmeal for years.  I tasted my first Muffin in a Minute only last year.  I've only been experimenting with coconut flour for a couple months.  Numerous, numerous wonderful naturally low carb ingredients that could've been making my life easier for a long time.  But I don't mind, really.  It's great knowing that there are plenty of wonderful low carb tricks, foods, secrets, discoveries, just waiting out there for me.

It's an ongoing adventure, and I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tips and Tricks with Flaxmeal

If you're  a low carber, chances are you've at least tried flaxmeal in some context or other.  Flaxmeal is simply ground-up flaxseed -- and yes, flax is the same fibrous plant from which fabric used to be made.

In the health food world, flaxseed is considered a superfood, with claims of benefits ranging from reducing your risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease and diabetes.  These various benefits come from three components of flaxseed:  Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber (both soluble and insoluble) and lignans, which are powerful antioxidants and rich in plant estrogens.  There are conflicting studies over whether flaxseed also helps with menopausal symptoms (my personal, anecdotal, completely unscientific experience of this is a resounding YES).

If you're a low carber, however, flaxseed has an entirely different benefit package -- it's a "grain" that's not a grain.  The carbs in flaxmeal are almost entirely fiber:  Out of 2.02 carbs in one tablespoon of flaxseed, 1.9 of those carbs are fiber.

The flaxmeal "muffin in a minute" recipe is ubiquitous on low carb sites and lists.  Structurally speaking, here's the basics: a teaspoon or so of butter or coconut oil, melted, beaten together with an egg, mix in a quarter cup of flaxmeal and whatever flavorings you like (cinnamon, Splenda, what have you) and half a teaspoon of baking powder, stir together in a microwave-safe mug or bowl and microwave for one minute.  You can make sweet MIMs, savory MIMs, add nuts or dried blueberries or cheese or whatever.  You can make MIMs in a selected bowl or container, split and toast for sandwich buns or bread.  I just posted a Zucchini bread that started out as an MIM recipe.

I use the above MIM recipe, with a little salt, vanilla extract, and Splenda added, for pancakes.  One "batch" makes two palm-sized, lovely pancakes that are very reminiscent of buckwheat pancakes.

I also make a flaxmeal cereal, particularly now in cold weather.  It's very simple:  Mix whatever quantity of flaxmeal with just less than twice the amount of water, some cinnamon, a little salt and Splenda.  Drop a couple hunks of butter in, stir thoroughly (so there aren't any flaxmeal lumps) and microwave for one minute, then stir thoroughly again.  It's very Cream of Wheat.  Important note:  Don't omit the butter, and I personally will never try coconut oil again instead.

All this said, there are two kinds of flaxmeal you can buy:  Regular "brown" flax, and golden (often organic) flax.  You can also choose between whole seeds and pre-ground flaxmeal.

Proponents of flax's health benefits say you should buy whole flaxseed and grind your own as you use it, and that's probably optimal.  However, after trying two different coffee grinders and one Vitamix blender, I still can't get a nice fine consistent grind, and I refuse to spend the megabucks on a dedicated grain mill, so I buy already-ground flaxmeal.  So sue me.  Because of flaxseed's high oil content, you should store your flaxseeds or flaxmeal in the refrigerator or freezer in an airtight container.

I use both brown and golden flaxmeal, but not interchangeably.  I prefer the brown flaxmeal for my hot flax cereal above; to me the golden flax makes the cereal too -- well, mucus-y -- and the consistency of the brown flax is much better.  On the other hand, for MIMs and pancakes and so forth, I much prefer the golden flax.

Speaking of failed experiments, I've never liked flaxmeal used in any way as a breading, which is too bad because it does stick nicely, but it makes a shell rather than a crust, and not a pleasantly textured one, either.  It can work as a binder in things like meatloaf, but I like other products more.

Friday, March 8, 2013

OMG, zucchini bread!!!

I have fond memories of zucchini bread.  Throughout my childhood, it was the only way I'd eat zucchini.  My grandmother, who lived with us, made it anytime we had too much zucchini around the house, and what Hoosier doesn't have too much zucchini around the house part of the year?  I ate it spread thickly with cream cheese.  I remember an impassioned argument with my mother about why zucchini bread should count as a vegetable -- if you ate enough of it, which I was always willing to do!

Last night, using Muffin-in-a-Minute principles, I ate zucchini bread for the first time since starting Atkins almost ten years ago (March 13, 2003!!!).

Here's what I made:


1T butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
1t vanilla extract
2t pumpkin pie seasoning
1/2t salt
Artificial sweetener equivalent to 1/4c sugar (or to taste)
1/4c flaxseed meal
1 heaping tablespoon coconut flour
About 2/3c shredded zucchini
1t baking powder

Mix thoroughly in a microwave-safe bowl -- I used an oversized teacup-shaped soup bowl.  Microwave until cooked through -- 2 1/2 minutes in my microwave, but microwaves vary.  Remove from bowl and let sit upside down for a few minutes, or the "bottom" will be damp.  At this point you can microwave it again for a few seconds to heat it up, eat it cold, or slice it and pop it into the oven or toaster oven if you like it crusty.  Smear with cream cheese or your spread of choice, and enjoy the flashbacks!

This makes a big muffin/loaf.  The flaxmeal gives it a wonderful nutty flavor, but you could add nuts too if you wished.  You could even sub some nut meal for some of the flaxmeal.  Haven't tried that yet, but I will.